Amid Coronavirus, Delhi’s Rohingya Refugees Struggle to Survive

World Refugee Day: The struggle to survive as a Rohingya refugee amid the coronavirus outbreak.

3 min read

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“We fear that our children will die of hunger, thirst and distress. That is what we fear. We are not scared of coronavirus.”
Mohd Javed, Rohingya Refugee Living in Delhi

Perhaps, these are the thoughts of every Rohingya refugee living in India.

Spread across Delhi, Jammu, Haryana and Hyderabad, the community of about 18,000 people, is currently fighting not just the coronavirus, but also a perception battle.

When those attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at the Markaz mosque in Nizamuddin tested positive, it was suspected that many of them are Rohingyas. Although 1,000 Rohingyas living in Delhi were screened, none of them tested positive for the virus.

Abdullah and his children at the Kalindi Kunj camp in Delhi.
(Photo: The Quint)
“We live in fear, everybody is scared. Firstly, the government tells us we are refugees. Secondly, if one person gets infected, the whole community will get affected. We all live together, be it Jammu, Hyderabad, Mewat, Delhi or Faridabad.”
Abdullah, Rohingya refugee living in Kalindi Kunj camp in Delhi.

Most of these Rohingyas living in India work as daily wage labourers, small time traders or street vendors. Very few of them are educated or have a steady job.

Mohd Abdullah came to India in 2012. He lives in Delhi’s Kalindi Kunj Camp with his wife and four children. After eight years of living as a refugee in a foreign land, his life was finally starting to look up when he bought an e-rickshaw.

Little did he know that the Novel coronavirus would soon take the country by siege.

Mohd Abdullah and his family.
(Photo: The Quint)
“The e-rickshaw cost me Rs 1,60,000. I had paid only Rs 40,000 and the rest is remaining. Since the lockdown, I haven’t been able to pay installments for 2 months. Now the owner is asking me to return the rickshaw if I cannot pay.”
Mohd Abdullah, Rohingya refugee living in Kalindi Kunj camp in Delhi.

Mohd Abdullah at least has a home to live in. At the other end of the city of Delhi, in Khajuri Khas, where more than 200 Rohingyas live, there’s a looming threat of losing the roof over their head anytime now.

Khajuri Khas locality in Delhi is home to more than 200 Rohingyas.
(Photo: The Quint)

In Khajuri Khas, the Rohingya families live in cramped rented accommodations, paying anything from Rs 3,000 to 5,000 every month. But ever since the lockdown began, many of them have lost their jobs.

And now, the landlords are threatening them with eviction.

“I used to work in a restaurant kitchen in Gurgaon. I lost my job in this lockdown and now I am sitting at home. I am very tense, I have no job no earning, how will I pay the rent? How will we sustain the family? These things bother me a lot.”
Mohd Javed, Rohingya refugee living in Khajuri Khas in Delhi.
Jannatara is a Rohingya refugee. She lives in Khajuri Khas with her three children.
(Photo: The Quint)

Many Rohingya refugees in Delhi approached the UNHCR to help them financially, mainly to pay their rents. But so far, they haven’t heard back from them.

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